The National Bureau of Investigation on Monday filed graft charges against ex-President Benigno Aquino III, former and incumbent government officials, and private individuals before the Office of the Ombudsman for the P3.5-billion procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine from French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
The recommendation came as the family of an 11-year-old boy who died of dengue after being given Dengvaxia filed a complaint of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against former Health secretary Janette Garin.
In a letter signed by NBI Director Dante Gierran to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the NBI recommended the conduct of a preliminary investigation against Aquino, ex-Budget secretary Florencio Abad and Garin for conspiracy to introduce the Dengvaxia vaccine by circumventing procurement and other government processes.
Also included in the complaint were Health officials Maria Joyce Ducusin, Philippine Children’s Medical Center director Julius Lecciones, Maria Wilda Silva, Mario Baquilod and Rosalind Vianzon.
The NBI also implicated ex-Health secretary Paulyn Ubial for technical malversation for continuing the dengue vaccine program despite knowing that it was never part of the 2015 or 2016 General Appropriations Act.
It urged the Ombudsman to indict Aquino for technical malversation under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code because “by his authority, [he] declared the use of savings from the FY2015 Mutual Benefit Personnel Fund and use the same to ‘augment’ a non-existent anti-dengue immunization program.”
Aquino, Abad, and Garin must be held culpable for technical malversation for conspiring to unlawfully effect the release of savings from the 2015 mutual benefit personnel fund to augment the anti-dengue immunization program.
“Review of the 2015 GAA (General Appropriations Act) finds no reference to any item or program, activity or project for the procurement of anti-dengue vaccine in particular,” the complaint read.
“There is technical malversation because government funds amounting to P3 billion intended for the 2015 Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF) of the Executive Department was utilized for the procurement of Dengvaxia under the DoH school-based immunization program. Although the source of the fund was declared as savings by the Chief Executive, its intended purpose failed as there are no existing programs, activity or project for dengue procurement and immunization.”
At least 830,000 school children were inoculated with the Dengvaxia vaccine, which was later revealed to be risky to persons who have not had contact with the dengue virus.
“Parents of vaccinated children, regardless of status, were shaken by the latest discovery of Sanofi Pasteur Inc. that the Dengvaxia should not be introduced to seronegative individuals,” the complaint said.
According to the NBI, the procurement was made without certificates of product registration given to Dengvaxia that only received a certificate of exemption.
It assailed the irregularities in the issuance of the exemption and that “the issuance of Certificate of Exemption was reduced into a mere procedural technicality that should be compiled in order for the responsible officials to procure Dengvaxia.”
The NBI called on Morales to hold Garin, Health Undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go, former officer-in-charge of Food and Drug Authority lawyer Nicolas Lutero; former OIC of Center For Drug Research and Regulation-FDA Ma. Lourdes Santiago; FDA’s CDRR officer in charge Melody Zamudio; FDA consultants Grace Medina and Imelda Matero; health undersecretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Vito Roque; health official Vito Roque; and Sanofi officers Conchita Santos, Oliver Charmeil, Guillaume Leroy, Jean Antoine Zinsou, Thomas Triomphe, Joselito del Mundo Sta. Ana and Jervin Papelleras liable for violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Even Formulary Executive Council chairperson Froilan Bagabaldo and members Cleotilde How, Cecilia Jimeno, Hilton Lam, Cecilia Maramba-Lazarte, Paul Matthew Pasco, Imelda Peña and John Wong must also be investigated for graft, the NBI said.
Also on Monday, Garin and 36 former and incumbent officials of the Health Department were charged before the Justice Department for their alleged role in the deaths of schoolchildren innoculated with Dengvaxia.
A complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide under the Revised Penal Code and violations of Anti-Torture Act and Consumer Act was filed against Garin and Health officials and executives of manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur Inc. and distributor Zuellig Pharma Corp. by the family of Michael Tablate, an 11-year-old student from Subic in Zambales who died in October last year after being inoculated with the anti-dengue vaccine.
Assisted by the Public Attorney’s Office, Tablate’s mother Rowena Villega filed a complaint before the DoJ against Garin and others. It was the 11th criminal complaint filed against Garin and other respondents before the DoJ so far as the PAO has already documents 67 cases of deaths from the vaccine.
Just like in the previous cases, the latest complaint accused Garin and others of negligence through “arbitrarily, maliciously, and deliberately failed to inform the Dengvaxia recipients and their parents or families of the dangers and risks related to Dengvaxia and to obtain their informed consent.”
The complaint also cited the failure of the DoH under Garin to conduct proper screening of Dengvaxia recipients and to implement active and aggressive monitoring and surveillance over the recipients considering the risks posed by the vaccine to zero negative recipients or those who had no history of dengue.
“Simply put, based on the admissions and declarations of respondent Sanofi Pasteur Inc., if Dengvaxia is administered to a person who has not yet contracted dengue, that person will have a greater risk of developing severe disease, which would have been otherwise had Dengvaxia not been administered upon him,” the complaint said.
The respondents “displayed grave recklessness, utter bad faith, lack of foresight, lack of skill, want of care, gross neglect and deliberate, arbitrary and even malicious disregard of the safety and lives of thousands of Filipino children,” it said.
According to Villegas, her son has inoculated the vaccine thrice—in March 2016, November 2016 and July 17.
“Around a week after receiving his last shot of Dengvaxia, Michael experienced dizziness, headache, and vomiting, causing him to miss school... Since Michael was inoculated with Dengvaxia, he started having frequent asthma attacks,” her complaint said.
The PAO forensic team conducted an autopsy on the victim and found that he died of “multiple organ failure” attributed to “viscerotropic-like disease with neurotropic-like disease secondary to Dengvaxia vaccination.”
“This is a result of the yellow fever vaccine backbone of Dengvaxia. The adverse effect upon him started to manifest within three months after last vaccination. Within 24 hours from hospital admission, he died. Prior to his vaccination, there appears to be no physical examination, medical history review, diagnostic tests or screening procedures conducted upon him,” added the complainant.